Expert: Just counting calories doesn’t help if you want to lose weight

If you want to lose weight or live a healthier life, you shouldn’t necessarily be counting calories.
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You should stop counting calories and instead focus on eating the right ingredients if you want to lose weight. This says Tim Spector, Professor of Genetic Epidemiology in London.

Highly processed foods can be less filling than whole foods, leading people to eat more than they are actually hungry.

“Food that has been heavily processed is the enemy,” Spector said. The longer the list of ingredients, the more elaborate the product tends to be.

If you want to lose weight and live a healthier life, you shouldn’t count calories, but rather make sure you eat less processed foods. This recommends epidemiologist Tim Spector, professor of genetic epidemiology at King’s College London.

While a certain calorie deficit is required to lose weight, this alone would be the wrong approach. It is also important which calories are consumed. According to Spector, the nutrition information on labels is often inaccurate. Plus, you automatically burn fewer calories if you eat mostly whole foods without artificial additives.

“We need to stop talking about calories,” he told Business Insider. “Highly processed foods are the enemy.” Spector is the best-selling author, Spoon-Fed: Because almost everything we’ve been told about food is wrong, and he’s the scientific co-founder of Zoe, a personalized nutrition company that helps people control their reactions to understand their body’s response to food.

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Many foods are processed in some way, such as oatmeal, yogurt, or flour. However, highly processed foods are mass-produced and contain additives such as dyes and preservatives to achieve the desired taste or texture. These additives have been linked to various health problems in the past. Examples of highly processed foods include pre-cooked cakes and cookies and potato chips.

Research suggests that more than half of the foods consumed in high-income countries are highly processed foods.

A small 2019 study from the U.S. National Institutes of Health found that people whose diets were high in highly processed foods consumed 500 more calories per day on average and gained weight than those who ate fresh food. Science is not yet unanimous on the reasons for this. However, some suspect that our hormones may interact differently with processed foods.

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Highly processed foods may also already be linked to a higher risk of heart disease and a shorter lifespan, according to a 2020 study published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition.

“It’s a myth that calories are useful”

Spector believes the biggest (and most harmful) myth is that calories are beneficial. Their importance is “vastly overrated”. Instead, people should focus more on the composition of the food, Spector said.

“We all have very different metabolic needs. So we can’t compare ourselves to others. Just because someone else sticks to an arbitrary calorie limit doesn’t mean we should, “he said. A croissant, for example, has fewer calories than avocado and egg toast. However, the latter has a much higher nutritional value and you will keep you full for longer thanks to the fiber, protein and healthy fats.

According to Spector, calorie counting often leads people to eat more highly processed foods because they may seem less caloric at first glance. He says many manufacturers are now removing fat and sugar from foods to cut calories and instead add chemicals and sweeteners to preserve the flavor.

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But they don’t keep you full for long. Research suggests that this ultimately leads to eating too many low-calorie but highly processed foods, which can lead to long-term weight gain.

Whole foods, on the other hand, are much more filling as they typically contain more fiber and protein. As a result, energy from food is released more slowly, resulting in a longer feeling of satiety, according to Spector.

Nick Shaw, a bodybuilder, personal trainer, and nutrition coach at RP Strength, told Business Insider that he encourages people to eat whole foods if they want to lose weight, even when less nutritious foods have the same number of calories and macros.

“You should always keep food quality in mind when considering how much to eat each day,” he said. “If you stick to mostly whole foods like lean proteins (eg sweet potatoes or whole grains), you can still lose body fat.”

Avoid foods with more than ten ingredients

Foods that are technically processed but not highly processed also lend themselves to a healthy diet. Examples include canned fruit, frozen vegetables, and yogurt, Spector said. To find out if a food is highly processed, you should look at the length of the ingredients list. A rule of thumb might be this: If a food has more than ten ingredients, you should probably stay away from them.

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This text has been translated from English. You can find the original here.

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